Karen Mc Lean
Curated and Directed by Julie Bentley
The Precariat seeks to explore themes of risk and resistance through architectural form. Emerging artist Karen Mc Lean presents an installation that invites and reveals the darker harmonies of historic and contemporary occupation. Numerous suspended sugar houses, each made from a refined molasses solution, slowly transformed from solid to liquid throughout the course of the show. A multi-channel sound installation, evoking the toiled land, accompanied the transforming houses. The Caribbean landscape is scattered with makeshift housing illustrative of creativity, tenacity, poverty and a landless peasantry. Using the material inheritance of Caribbean colonialism, Karen explores the historical forces that have kept this form alive into the present day. Questioning the physical structures of everyday life, Mc Lean seeks to create a charged and highly distinct site of historic habitation, responding to the ever present fear of dispossession. The Precariat aims to open a new dialogue between freedom and servitude.
In my work, I invest into the issue of post-colonialism because this is the milieu in which I was born and grew up. The second important issue is origin because when this is split as it was in my case, this produces a very particular experience of post-colonialism and subjectivity which is manifest in my art practice and writing. Metamorphosis and mimicry repeat in my sculptures and ideas. For me, this is the repetition of difference, of being tied ontologically to an essentially self-differentiating difference. This is apparent in the models of the Chattel houses from Barbados which I sculpt out of pure sugar and which slowly give up their form as they respond to the heat of the natural environment, that is slowly relinquishing their hold on the idea of a ‘stable’ origin, and accepting the idea of difference as their origin, instead. This is also manifest in my interest in the discourses of mimicry, which rather than affirming the possibility of a model of full-recognition in or the identity of a model or concept, point to the slippage which blocks the full experience of either, and it is indeed this slippage which instigates a constant movement of determination, a reciprocal determination which constantly seeks new definitions of itself. That is the essence of mimicry and my work points to the failure of any possible representative model for my experiences, and reflecting the ambivalence inherent in my history, seeks ideas and substances which resonate with that history.